70 years ago tonight, the Red Sox were in Philadelphia, wrapping up their season at Shibe. The Sox were on their way to an impressive 84-70 finish, but that still left them 17 games behind the Yankees. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was resting at the bottom of the rankings. Mack’s boys would finish the year 64-90. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a meaningless late season matchup. But there was a personal goal on the line, so the games did mean something to Ted Williams. In the first game of the 3 game set, he had gone 1-4 in a 5-1 Red Sox win. That performance had dropped his average to .39955. Since baseball rounds up, he was guaranteed a .400 average if he rested for the doubleheader on Sunday, and he would be the first major leaguer to achieve that distinction since Bill Terry of the Giants did it in 1930. But Williams told a reporter, “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line.”
So he decided to play in that doubleheader on Sunday the 28th in Philly. But not without anxiety. This from a recent article in the New York Times:
Inside his room at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Hotel (right) on Saturday, Sept. 27, 1941, Ted Williams was jumpy and impatient. That might have been an apt description of the mercurial Williams at most times, but on this evening he had good cause for his unease…waiting it out in the hotel was asking too much. Recruiting the clubhouse man Johnny Orlando for companionship, Williams marched into the streets of Philadelphia. They walked for more than three hours, with Orlando stopping at bars for occasional sustenance as Williams, who rarely drank alcohol, sipped a soft drink outside.
“I kept thinking about the thousands of swings I had taken to prepare myself,” Williams said years later. “I had practiced and practiced. I kept saying to myself, ‘You are ready.’ I went to the ballpark the next day more eager to hit than I had ever been.”
In the first game, Williams faced a young Dick Fowler, who had recently been called up from Toronto. Fowler would throw a no-hitter against the Browns in 1945, but on this day he was no match for Teddy Ballgame. Williams had 4 hits, and the .400 average was secure. In the 2nd game of the no-hitter, Number Nine faced Fred Caligiuri. This game would be the highlight of Caligiuiri’s career, as he would knock off Lefty Grove and the Red Sox 7-1, with Caligiuri going the distance for the first of 2 wins he would ever have in the Major Leagues. But Williams went 2-3, and at the end of the season Ted Williams sported a spiffy .406 average.
It was quite an accomplishment, but it didn’t make much of a splash. Only 10,000 Philly fans made it out to the ballpark that day, and it got limited national coverage. Williams didn’t even win MVP that year, as the honor went to Joe DiMaggio, whose 56-game streak that year had captivated the nation. But I’m sure that no-one in Shibe Park that day had any idea they were watching a drama unfold unlike any ohter that would happen in the 70 years since, a player battling to get above the .400 mark in the last week of the season.
If you’re curious, the closest anyone will come this year is Miguel Cabrera, who is batting .343. The only Philadelphia player since 1900 to hit .400 was Nap Lajoie of the Athletics in 1901. Incredibly, in 1894, the entire Phillies outfield of Ed Delahanty, Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson all hit .400.